Thursday, October 20, 2016

SPECIAL EFFECTS (1984) (Blu-ray Review)

Label: Olive Films
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 106 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Larry Cohen
Cast:  Zoe Tamerlis, Eric Bogosian, Brad Rijn, Kevin O’connor

Director Larry Cohen is probably most remembered for his horror movie, a series of seriously entertaining b-movies like It’s Alive (1974), God Told Me To (1976), Q the Winged Serpent (1982) and The Stuff (1985), he is also the screenwriter of William Lustig's Maniac Cop (1988) and the Abel Ferrara's 90s remake of Body Snatchers, the latter of which was just re issued on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive. Horror fans might not be aware of his other non-horror movies, in the 80s he made a handful of thrillers, notably Special Effects (1984) starring Zoe Tamerlis (Ms .45) in a dual-role, one worth re visiting on Blu-ray from Olive Films. 

Wunderkind director Christopher Neville (Eric Bogosian, Talk Radio) s a filmmaker whose career is in fast decline following the box office flop of his latest movie, a big-budget special effects movie. A desperate wanna-be actress named Mary Jean (Zoe Tamerlis) tracks him down at his NYC townhouse hoping to make a connection and to be cast in his next movie. After some short conversation they end up in bed but when the ditsy actress insults he strangles her in bed while secretly filming the whole thing on  a series of hidden 16mm cameras. Afterward he dumps her nude body in her own car on Coney Island. 

Mary Jean's estranged husband Keefe (Brad Rijn) becomes the prime suspect in the murder when he shows up in town looking for her, but the murderous director comes up with the idea of using the snuff footage in his next film, a true-life movie about the murder of the aspiring actress he killed! To that end he bails the husband out of jail and lawyers him up, casting him in the movie playing himself. Neville casts a Mary-Jean lookalike named Elaine (also Tamerlis) to play the ditsy doomed actress opposite her real-life hubby. 

Neville manages to manipulate everyone to his own ends, even Det. Lt. Philip Delroy (Kevin O'Connor) is brought on board as an associate producer on the movie, its a dangerous game but the devious director masterfully casts and manipulates all the players, weaving a web of deceit which will hopefully allow him to incorporate his snuff film into the finished product. 

Cohen wrote and directed a seedy movie right here that is a fun thriller with a decent cast of characters. Zoe Tamerlis of Ms. 45 looks great on screen and shows some decent depth of character both as the ditsy wanna-be actress and the lookalike actress portraying her in the movie, she also look great in her many nude scenes, she definitely didn't mind baring some skin. Brad Rijn is just alright as the hot-tempered husband caught up in the director's movie madness, he seems a bit wooden and one-note. Bogosian is also decent as the self-obsessed director who will do anything to make his snuff film, manipulating everyone around him, unknowingly sewing his own seeds of destruction, this was his first movie, he would next go on to appear in Scorsese's Talk Radio which would really showcase his talents. 

Special Effects is a fun thriller, casting an evil-eye on the underbelly of Hollywood and the dark side of low-budget movie making, how it seems to cast a spell on all involved. I think there are quite a few moments of inspiration here, it is twisted how the prime suspect in the murder is playing himself in the movie, that the real murderer hides his crime within the movie he is making about the murder, that the lead detective would be sucked into the production, this is twisted stuff. My favorite scene is the director strangling someone with length of film stock, that's good stuff. 

Cohen always managed to make his cheap production appear more expensive than they were, the budget is right there on the screen, with some nice atmospheric lighting with luminous moments of red and green light that fill the screen and give it some depth with glowing NYC neon and gritty imagery throughout, even Cohen's cheapest productions looked like they cost a bundle to make, and this is no different. The design and layout f Neville's townhouse is a definite highlight, a very creep place when you get down to it. 

Audio/Video: Larry Cohen's Special Effects arrives on Blu-ray from distributor Olive Films framed in 1.85 widescreen looking nicely consistent. That 80s film stock can be rough but what we get is sourced from good elements with very little in the way of damage to the frame, a few white speckles now and again seems to be the worse. It can be a bit grainy in the darker scenes but nothing too awful, this is a consistent and nicely detailed image. The lone audio option on the disc is a DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo tracks that sounds crisp and clean, nicely balanced with the synth score from Michael Minard (The Mutilator) score coming through nicely. It may not be the most dynamic audio track, but it does the job, optional English subtitles are included. 

Extras on the disc are slim but above average for Olive Films, we get a nicely candid audio commentary with Director Larry Cohen who is always a great listen, a storied director with a storied career who is adept at storytelling when it comes to the making of his movies. The track is moderated by director Steve Mitchell who is making a doc about about Larry Cohen titled King Cohen, which I cannot wait to watch!

Special Features: 
- Audio Commentary with Director Larry Cohen moderated by filmmaker Steve Mitchel
- Trailer

Special Effects is a fun and stylish thriller from Larry Cohen, I prefer his horror movies but was is a fun detour away from his horror stuff, fans who might not be aware of it should check this out, the guy was always an interesting director, and this new Olive Films release looks and sounds good in HD, well worth looking into.